Let's celebrate: the election of Stéphane Dion as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada helps end a several-decades-long era of shoddy Canadian politics.
The puny agendas of our parliamentarians pale beside the grand struggles of earlier Liberal/NDP/CCF pols over national concerns like medicare and pensions. Today's emergency is global warming and the environment, but until three years ago, no leader of a political party with reps in the House had spoken with courage and conviction about it.
It took the election of Jack Layton as NDP leader to diminish that eco-illiteracy on the national stage, and now Dion's victory will end it for good.
But there's a lot to be learned from the earlier parliamentary battles for overarching reforms. In 1919, William Lyon Mackenzie King won the leadership of the Liberal party and pledged to institute medicare and old age pensions. It was 70 years, however, before universal social insurance was accomplished; it took Pierre Trudeau, prodded by NDPer David Lewis, to put the finishing touches on pensions.
This dynamic is likely to be repeated in the eco context, because Dion and his $10 billion plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over six years will face intense opposition and will need to be pushed and prodded into being by public opinion and the integrity of the NDP.
Dion's platform could have been penned by Layton. It's full of the NDP leader's favourite recipes for curbing carbon emissions, and even includes a plan to expand Nahanni National Park, a cause Layton and Olivia Chow lent their voices to when they canoed there last summer. But park expansion ran into roadblocks from both the Martin and Harper governments, and the same mining and petroleum interests will still be there when and if Dion gets a chance to move on it.
So look to the NDP to keep the focus. Only one day into Dion's tenure, the NDP criticized the former enviro minister's stance on using the expansion of the Alberta tar sands as a source of enviro sin taxes. Layton wisely demands an end to any growth in this major source of greenhouse gas.
Still, the fact that we can now expect such issues to be openly debated by two major parties is a miraculous breakthrough. The future started Sunday, December 3.